The Speed Project; Risks and Research

It’s been a little while since I shared an update on my training for The Speed Project, life has been so full on lately between uni assignments, training and getting all the logistics for the race sorted and blogging fell right down my list of priorities.

It is crazy how close we are to stepping out on this massive adventure through the desert. It feels like just yesterday I was chatting to Rosh about perhaps maybe joining her team for The Speed Project and now we’re counting down the days until we fly to LA. I can’t quite believe it’s happening.

I don’t feel any fear about what’s coming. I thought so hard about taking on this challenge and have always been utterly realistic about the risks and realities involved. Not least because I had to write a risk assessment for my university setting everything out in detail!

One of the first things I did once I’d made up my mind to run across Death Valley was to tell my phd supervisor Rich. For someone who’s research is all about ultra running the opportunity to go out and experience a race is just too good to turn down, it’s an opportunity to get closer to understanding the experiences of women in the sport and bring that insight in my research. For a professional geek that is about as exciting as it gets, and thankfully Rich was onboard (and in fact suggested it’s make good field work before I even had a chance to say anything!) and fully supported turning this exploit into research.

The Speed Project; Risks - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

The thing is though carrying out field work isn’t quite as simple as just going out and doing it. You need to get ethical approval, a process that’s all about making sure you don’t do any harm, mostly to other people but also to yourself. It’s a big deal and something universities take really seriously, and if you do research that involves people in situations where they might be vulnerable (like when they’re running across the desert and haven’t slept in awhile) then they really up the ante. I completed pages and pages of forms where I carefully set out what I wanted to achieve from my research and how I would safeguard everyone involved, including me, because although I reckon this is a fun weekend away my university has other ideas. You see they have a responsibility to me as one of their students, and if things go wrong while I’m in the field then they have a responsibility to show that everything was done to protect me as far as practically possible. Which means I had to do a pretty involved risk assessment.

It was an intense experience, and the first time I met with my departmental ethics officer the intake of breath was audible. What I was proposing was like nothing anyone in my department had done before (it’s not exactly common for management academics to want to go for really long runs in the name of research!) and there were understandably a few concerns. Injury, dehydration, snakes, road traffic collisions were starters for 10 in the list of things that could happen and my job was to set out how I planned to mitigate each risk so that the university could feel a little more confident I wouldn’t kill myself. It was a painstaking process, but it also means I am brutally aware of what I’m taking on and that I am confident I’ve done as much as I can to look after myself and my team in the field.

The Speed Project; Risks - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

We have an awesome crew who are supporting us through this thing and will be playing a major role when it comes to our safety. Driving the RV alongside us when we need to run on busy sections of road, running with us through shady neighbourhoods, making sure we’ve eaten and are staying hydrated, generally having our backs.

Tech will also play a big role. Strava Summit will help us keep tabs on each other when we’re running stretches alone. Files uploaded to our watches will keep us on track along a route none of us know and walkie talkies will keep us connected when we’re all in different places.

Although there are so many unknowns in a race like this, and that’s part of the appeal, knowledge is power. We’re working with Precision Hydration to work out our exact hydration needs and reduce the risk of dehydration. Likewise we know what nutrition works for each of us, we have an amazing massage therapist called Michael to keep our muscles in check and we’re learning more about how each of us reacts in stressful situations so we can manage them better. This doesn’t eliminate risk, but it does mean that we can keep more of a grip on the things that are within our control.

One of the most important elements of risk management is our training. I am crazy proud of how hard the whole team has worked to get ready for this event. Everyone has trained in their own way, but we’ve all been through the hard yards. We’ve had good runs and bad runs, injuries, sickness, days when things have been amazing and others where we’ve doubted everything. We are all stronger than we’ve ever been, individually and as a team, and that shows in our shared philosophy that our priority right now is to get to the race in one piece.

There’s an amazing camaraderie that’s developed between us over the last few months and the bonds we’ve built as a team have helped us all develop the mental strength we need to go into this challenge. We all know this isn’t going to be easy. We know that there’s going to be times when we each find things really hard, and we’re learning how to support each other through those tricky moments. I know this team have my back, and i’ve got theirs.

*images: Anna Rachel Photography

Training for the Speed Project - week seven

In collaboration with 361 Europe.

Shit is getting real. In less than six weeks time we’ll be in LA getting ourselves sorted before running out into the desert. Just typing that gives me feelings. My heart swells whenever I think about being out on the road, running towards Las Vegas on what I can only begin to describe as an epic journey. Yes it will be really hard. No I probably won’t sleep much, and it will push me to my physical and emotional limits, but that’s when the magic happens and you go beyond your expectations.

Training for the Speed Project week seven - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is the idea of perfect training. So often I see people expressing guilt at a missed session, imperfect fuelling, not hitting a particular pace, or any number of other perceived flaws. When we set out on a training journey we start with a fresh plan. We think long and hard about how best to train for an event. We program workouts that we think will make us stronger. We give up parts of our lives to focus on the goal and the journey towards it. The emotional investment is huge, so when we fail to meet our perception of perfection, whether it’s a missed session or a day when frankly you felt like shit, we can be quick to beat ourselves up and to doubt our worth.

My training is far (FAR) from perfect. Last week I spent a whole day in bed because I’d been so crap at fuelling and was basically exhausted, and that’s before we mention the long run that I cut short (before getting lost and having to get an Uber). I could tell you so many stories about times I’ve ‘messed up’ my training, and I used to feel really bad about it. I worried that a failure in training meant I’d fail in my race, and that by association I was a failure. That is until I reframed my thinking. I took my perceived failures and turned them into learning experiences. I was crap at fuelling, ok well what do I need to fuel better? Some quick maths and I worked out my calorie shortfall and chatted to Mike (who looks after all the food prep in our house) about how I could make sure I ate enough moving forward. Since then I’ve had noticeably more energy and in turn that’s helping me become a stronger runner. Likewise, I cut my run short because I could feel my legs were really tight. Reflecting on everything I know about good form this tells me that I need to work a bit more on by glutes and lower back so that I can hold good form for longer and run strong. If I didn’t have these ‘failures’ in training then I might not have spotted these weaknesses, and they might have held me back on the road.

Training is your practice run. It’s an opportunity to learn what your weaknesses are and then to address them. You shouldn’t expect your training to be perfect, in fact I reckon you should hope that it isn’t. You need those tough miles, those days where you’ve really not had enough to eat or that moment where you disappoint yourself to learn and develop as a runner. Training is about more than getting miles in your legs, it’s about learning about yourself.

Training for the Speed Project week seven - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

With all that in mind, here’s what I got up to last week:

Monday - 50 minute restorative yoga class at Chroma Yoga

Tuesday - 15 minutes easy, 12 x 30s hard efforts on/2 minutes off, 15 minutes easy on a treadmill

Wednesday - got 20 minutes into a run before sacking it in. I was exhausted and my legs just didn’t want to move.

Thursday - skipped my run, but did make it to a yin yoga class

Friday - REST DAY

Saturday - SUCH A GOOD RUN DAY - 3 fast miles in lieu of Park Run (I was at work), and then 30 minutes recovery with Mike.

Sunday - 8.5 miles where I got lost, got sore and ended up getting an Uber. My legs were super heavy, but I felt pretty excellent in myself.


A truly imperfect week, but a week that taught me a hell of a lot. Not least that I need to eat a lot more.

Are you curious about how I’m training for the Speed Project? Is there anything you’d like to know? Let me know in the comments and I will see what I can do! In the meantime, you can read all my posts about this adventure here.

* images: Anna Rachel Photography

** my shoes were a gift from 361 Europe, who I am ambassador for.






Training for the Speed Project - week six

This week has been when fears have started to creep in. Questioning whether I am good enough (fast enough) for this amazing opportunity. Questioning whether I have trained enough, whether the sessions that haven’t happened for one reason or another will make a difference and being frustrated at myself for not training as perfectly as I would like. Being frustrated at myself for being tired. Fatigue is something I struggle with. It’s something many people with anxiety struggle with, and it’s a side effect of the medication that ensures I am able to lead the life I want to lead. Most of the time it’s a necessary evil I accept, but the realities of the fatigue I’ll experience during The Speed Project and jabbing me hard right now.

Training for The Speed Project week six - A Pretty Place to Play London running and fitness blog

Monday - I honestly can’t remember why my run didn’t happen on Monday, but I do remember that I had a panic attack in class that evening and had to go home early.

Tuesday - took some extra rest to recover after my panic attack. Did a little yoga at home

Wednesday - back up and at it with 4 miles. Also discovered that Galaxy Caramel is not good fuel. Nearly vomited mid run. Several times.

Thursday - 45 minutes easy and hill sprints which made me seriously happy.

Friday - Rest day

Saturday - ParkRun with Mike and the Bullfinch Running Club. A nice easy pace along a hilly route and hill sprints on the treadmill later in the day.

Sunday - 12 miles through the city. Tried to find a route that didn’t stop and start too much, wasn’t very successful. Made a couple of pitstops for snacks.

Training for The Speed Project week six - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness blog

Megs reminded me (during one of our epic team whatsapp marathons) that I am one step ahead because I know about this challenge, so I can plan for it. She’s right, you can plan for the obstacles you can foresee, and in an event like The Speed Project being able to spot challenges in advance is a huge benefit, if only because there’s so much you can’t plan for. So rather than sitting scared brooding on my fears (so tempting) I’m taking charge of the situation and planning how I will manage it. Here’s where my head is at…

Rest

I do a lot, and I will be doing a lot right up until we depart for LA, but rest has to be a priority. Less TV, more sleeping. Naps as often as I can (I may or may not have been eying up the sofa in the staff room at uni today…it’s quite comfy looking…) and ensuring quality sleep, which means cutting back on using my phone and laptop before bed and having a proper bed time routine.

Eating Enough

This is something I struggle with. I’m just not in the habit of giving much thought to what I eat and I suspect I am under eating. Eating more at regular intervals and using appropriate supplements is a priority for me. However much I try I can’t subside on toast.

Strength, Mobility, Recovery

The secret to endurance success. I’m gradually nailing all three but I need to ensure consistency. Warming up properly and getting my SAM workouts in post run, practicing yoga and spending more time in the sauna not only to help my sore body recover but also to help it adapt to the heat. I’m also using meditation and mindfulness to help calm my nervous system after workouts so that I can rest more effectively and working out my own recovery protocol which I can use between legs during the race.

Mindset

I need to get tougher. Mindset is what gets you through these physically challenging events, and sometimes I wonder if I’m too quick to give up, to question wether I should run or if I need rest. It’s a fine line some days, but I know that I need to challenge myself to push more. Some days I am fearless and push through anything, others I am scared of hurting myself physically and mentally. I know that there are times I really shouldn’t train, but there are also those where I can and should push through. I’m braver than I was, but I need to get braver still.


I can do this, and I will do this because I am going in with my eyes open and a desire to go further than before. Looking back over my posts about this race I’m starting to see just how emotional running can be for me. Going through the motion of one foot in front of another seems to stir up feelings within me, and we all know I do feelings in a big way, it’s all part of being hyper sensitive. Movement frees us feelings and I don’t always know how to handle them. Sometimes these feelings are what I need - grit, perseverance, joy, satisfaction - but sometimes they’re less helpful - frustration, annoyance, pain, hurt. It is a massive challenge for me. I don’t think that it means I shouldn’t run, but I do need to learn how to manage it, like I’ve done in every other area of my life. Running is forever teaching me something, which is why I will never quit.


Are you curious about how I’m training for the Speed Project? Is there anything you’d like to know? Let me know in the comments and I will see what I can do! In the meantime, you can read all my posts about this adventure here.

* images: Anna Rachel Photography

** my trainers were gifted to me by 361 Europe as part of the ongoing relationship I have with the company as an ambassador